Bigotry among Christians

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror, April 12 , 2006 edition, p. A10.

It was easy to take the side of Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper that published those cartoons which outraged Muslims, because it was the popular thing to do.

No one, except the fascists among us, would argue against an individual’s right to freedom of speech. No one would advocate press censorship or say violence is the proper way to express religious outrage.

Besides, there is such a close identification between Muslims and terrorism, it was easier to find fault with Muslims than to blame those who offended them.

It was not surprising, therefore, that a columnist dared ask, “What is more blasphemous: those pen-and-ink doodles of the Prophet Mohammed (offensive they may be to the Muslims), or the killing of thousands of innocents by terrorists who wrongly invoke Islam? Where is the world-wide Islamic outrage over the latter?”

Where’s the connection? All Muslims were outraged by those cartoons but not all Muslims expressed their outrage in a violent manner. Some Muslims believe in terrorism but more Muslims condemn it.

The near-universal defense for Jyllands Posten and the unthinking condemnation of Islamic outrage as religious intolerance reveals a prejudice held by many Christians against Muslims and Islam.

Suppose, instead of an anti-Muslim caricature,  the New York Times were to publish the following racist cartoon to commemorate Rev. Martin Luther King Day, a US national holiday observed during Black History Month:

“Two white men are lounging on the porch of a Dixie plantation house . One of them has leashed gorillas by his side and the other has leashed Negroes by his. The one with the leashed Negroes tells the other, “Get rid of your gorillas and buy gorillas like mine. These gorillas can talk and are easier to train.” In the next cartoon panel, there’s a caption underneath a photo gallery of illustrious African Americans that says:  “Talking gorillas who made significant contributions to humanity.”

How many will use the self-serving explanation of Jyllands Posten, “Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter” to defend New York Times’ right to publish such a racist cartoon? Does anyone doubt that the New York Times would become a pariah?

How many are going to accuse black people of over-reacting if they took to venting their outrage through riots? How many are going to say that blacks are intolerant?

How many will dismiss the cartoon as “pen and ink doodles”?

We can see there’s a world of difference, especially in terms of effects, between bigotry expressed at the dinner table and bigotry disseminated through mass media. An individual’s right to free speech is not the same as freedom of the press. And yet, Jyllands Posten was awarded a free speech ticket instead of a kick in the butt.  Is it because Muslims and Islam are now fair game?

So what if Christians don’t react violently to anti-Jesus cartoons? So what if Christians are tolerant of other religions? That is what’s expected of Christians.

It’s not for Christians to tell others how to behave. It’s enough for Christians to be Christian.

Prejudice against religion, skin color, sex, or culture has no place in Christianity. Those who defended Jyllands Posten gave shelter to those who disseminate bigotry under the guise of freedom of the press.

The issue was not about freedom of the press or religious intolerance. It was about disseminating bigotry. And it was stupid and un-Christian to defend it. That’s the bottom line.

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